the stuff life is made of

The Old Testament is an amazing document, written by dozens of authors over a period of more than a thousand years, containing literature as diverse as civil codes and love songs. Its cast of personalities is equally diverse, from the humble and devoted Ruth, to the power-hungry and pathetic Saul, to the emotional and pleading Jeremiah, on and on; all of them deeply flawed and intensely human. Its style is minimalist and understated, earnest and intentional, poetic and beautiful.

Many people think that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is mostly about rules that stuffy old men, and a stuffy old God, made up to ruin everyone’s good time. To the church’s detriment, too many Christians think and act in a way that supports this impression. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you read the Old Testament, you will find it is full to the brim of life, the stuff human life is made of, the good and the bad together. It is full of the God who is passionate about human beings and intensely involved in the life of his creation, loving good and hating all that is evil, all the sin that rots and destroys the good world he has made.

The Old Testament celebrates and endorses the raw stuff of human life when it is not tainted by sin’s perversion and instead expresses “shalom,” the fullness of peace God wants between himself, people, and all of creation.
Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom, which means “the LORD is peace.” Judges 6:34 (NLT)
“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” – Cornelius Plantinga

God created the physical world. He created sex and wants his people to enjoy intimacy with their spouses instead of ruining themselves with sexual sin (Proverbs 5:18-23). He uses sex as a picture of the love-relationship between Jesus and his people, calling the church the “Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:31-32). He created food and drink and wants his people to enjoy them without indulging in excess, which deadens their joy (Nehemiah 8:10). Jesus instituted bread and wine as the constant symbol of his selfless love and describes the coming world as a wedding feast (Revelation 19:9).

Some pervert these good things with carnal indulgence, which the church is well-known for rejecting. Others pervert them in another way, however: by forbidding the gifts of God with artificial regulations and rules. Paul said,

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23

Elsewhere he wrote,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4

One of the many reasons I love all the stories and poetry of the Old Testament is that they include all the elements of human life, “everything created by God,” giving our lives real dignity and validating our diverse experiences. They are spiritual, but – rather, therefore – concerned with this life. This list serves as just a small example:

  • Love and sex in marriage – Song of Songs
  • Family life and children – Genesis, Proverbs
  • Artistic creativity – Psalms
  • Intense sorrow and depression – Lamentations, Jeremiah, Psalms
  • Searching for meaning in life – Ecclesiastes
  • Friendship – Ruth
  • Work and leadership – Ezra, Nehemiah
  • Facing obstacles and opposition – 1 Samuel, Esther, Daniel
  • Suffering and oppression – Exodus, Micah, Amos
  • Questioning God – Job, Habakkuk, Psalms

The church ought not deny or belittle authentic human experience, ever. Christianity does not stifle; Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A biblical view of the world gives life to, is inspired by, illuminates, and celebrates all the stuff life is made of. God gives redemption and raises our eyes to heaven so that we can be truly human in the very fullest sense of the word, for his glory, for our joy.

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One thought on “the stuff life is made of

  1. Lyssa, once again, I am inspired and humbled by the amazing understanding and wisdom you have, though so young. It is hard to understand the Old Testament, but yet so worth the effort. God’s words have been leading people to understanding for all these thousands of years. It is mind boggling, but yet you help us see what God is expressing. May we truly live as He would want us to, in the shalom that He always intended for us.

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